Quick Trip Report on Bonaire + Aruba, June 2021

Please register or login

Welcome to ScubaBoard, the world's largest scuba diving community. Registration is not required to read the forums, but we encourage you to join. Joining has its benefits and enables you to participate in the discussions.

Benefits of registering include

  • Ability to post and comment on topics and discussions.
  • A Free photo gallery to share your dive photos with the world.
  • You can make this box go away

Joining is quick and easy. Log in or Register now!

IDEngineer

Registered
Messages
9
Reaction score
12
Location
Idaho USA
# of dives
50 - 99
We just did a 10 day trip to Bonaire (7 days) and Aruba (3 days). Took AA from MIA to BON, then Divi Divi to AUA with a layover in CUR, and finally AA from AUA to CLT and then home. This report will focus on the mechanics of the trip and not so much on where we went and what we saw/did underwater since there are lots of existing trip reports about that, and right now simply traveling internationally is almost the bigger adventure.

We were last minute add-ons to a trip organized by our local dive shop (LDS). Their trip to Bonaire was originally scheduled to happen right when COVID-19 started so it kept getting re-re-rescheduled until it finally came together in mid-June 2021. Everyone else stayed at Belmar but by the time we joined they were full, so we ended up at Buddy Dive. That turned out to be a huge plus for our group of four (two certified, two newbies who got certified while on Bonaire)... the included breakfasts, the onsite restaurants, the more complete dive shop, and the onsite tank filling station (Belmar and all other sites have to truck their tanks to/from the Buddy Dive "home site") made for a vastly superior experience compared to "just an apartment" at Belmar.

Since the group-at-large already had their flights booked, we had to arrange our own travel. My wife handles travel for our large extended family so she's a master at such things, and in the end we spent less time in airports AND far less money for our flights than the rest of the group. Example: We left AUA at noon and were home in Idaho at midnight the same day. Leaving at noon meant we could dive the previous day as long as we were out of the water by 6pm (18 hours) so that effectively bought us an extra day of diving.

Leaving the US was straightforward. Arriving at BON requires you to show them PCR NAAT test results within the last 24 hours, which we took at Walgreens on the way to the airport. Walgreens charged us $0 for our group of four - not sure how that happened since we have no other relationship with them and they have no medical insurance data on us. We received the PDF results via email by the time we landed at our outbound layover, just a couple of hours later.

The very first thing you do when you get off the plane in BON is show them your PCR test. They do this under a canopy outside the terminal - you literally cannot get into the terminal without test results. But they were super friendly about it and the process was very smooth.

Buddy Dive was simply awesome. As it turned out, we arrived on the very first day of their reopening for normal business after being shut down all that time for COVID-19. They understand that their business, and the island economy, are wholly dependent upon tourism and they were incredibly gracious and helpful and friendly. Their facility and accommodations are a bit dated here and there but they are clean, have the best air conditioning I've ever felt, and every single employee went out of their way to make us feel welcome. They will be our default choice for return visits!

The rest of our LDS dive group returned to the US after seven days. But since we arranged our own travel, we opted to hop over to Aruba for three more days so our freshly certified kids (19 and 17) could dive on the shipwrecks and airplane wrecks there. Aruba also requires a within-24-hours test, which Buddy Dive arranged for us with Bon Bini (a Bonaire medical group) right on the property so we didn't have to drive anywhere. We simply walked to the front office and the tests were over in about 15 minutes.

Aruba also requires visitors to buy a medical insurance policy which shelters their government from any COVID-19 expenses if you come down with the virus while on the island. We did that online after receiving our test results, which only took a few minutes per person.

We took Divi Divi Airlines from BON to AUA and loved them! Going from BON to AUA means a short layover in CUR, so be forewarned that Divi Divi doesn't staff their gates until they're literally ready to board you. That got a little nerve wracking as we watched the time tick closer and closer, but suddenly a very nice gal appeared and immediately ushered everyone out to the bus and thence to the de Havilland Twin Otter (their entire fleet is just six Twin Otters!). The staff was awesome, the planes were snug but a hoot for such puddle jumping, and overall it was a great day. I monitored our flight on GPS and they flew at 4000 MSL and ~200 MPH between the islands.

Unlike Bonaire, Aruba checks your test results indoors (read: air conditioning). Again, super friendly and wecoming. Customs was fast and painless.

On Aruba we stayed at the absolutely brand new (only opened in April, two months ago) Radisson Blu Aruba hotel on Palm Beach. The hotel was incredible, but we're not "nightlife" people so next time we might opt to stay nearer Eagle Beach. Once again we dove with SE Aruba Fly-n-Dive; they've always taken great care of us and we've come to consider Paula, her husband, and the rest of their crew like family. A special shout-out for dive master Lucas, who was ultra-professional in an easygoing manner that made everyone comfortable.

The US requires a within-24-hours PCR test for all entrants including US Citizens.Like Buddy Dive on Bonaire, the Radisson also arranged for onsite PCR testing - right in our hotel room! It was late in the day so we didn't get the test results until the next morning, but they popped into our email right at 8am.

Our return flight was on AA from AUA to CLT. Aruba has enough US visitors that US Customs maintains its own staff and facilities within the airport. The process in AUA airport has several steps for checking test results... you submit your bags and then retrieve them again, only to submit them a second time... there is a separate Customs process for "leaving Aruba" and "enter the US". Plan on standing in lines for a while. But by the time you're boarding the plane, you're already cleared to reenter the US so arriving in CLT was like any usual domestic flight.

In summary: It IS possible to travel to the ABC's after COVID-19 and have a great time diving there. The testing is annoying (and pricey, on the islands) but managable and the locals work HARD to make it as easy as they can. Testing for our two-island trip added about $750 for four people (eight tests on two islands) so factor that into your budget, and remember that here in Idaho Walgreens charged us zero. I don't know if that's true in other states so you may have additional costs for your outbound US tests.

It was awesome getting back into real diving after ~18 months of jumping into local lakes just to keep our skills fresh. We've been to Aruba before so we knew what to expect there, but this was our first trip to Bonaire and it lived up to all the hype. The often-rocky shore entrances and exits were a sometimes challenging with all the gear, but our LDS staff took incredible care of my slightly physically challenged wife.

Overall a fantastic trip and we can't wait to return to Bonaire. If you're considering a dive trip to the Caribbean, our experience says it's 100% possible and 100% worth it. Get out there!
 

cather

Registered
Messages
15
Reaction score
33
Location
atlanta
# of dives
50 - 99
great to hear some of the travel portions considering the times.
bonaire has been something ive been considering doing whether with a LDS or just winging it solo sometime soon™
thanks for the info!
 

SaltyKSue

Contributor
Messages
413
Reaction score
17
Location
Holladay, Ut
# of dives
500 - 999
We just did a 10 day trip to Bonaire (7 days) and Aruba (3 days). Took AA from MIA to BON, then Divi Divi to AUA with a layover in CUR, and finally AA from AUA to CLT and then home. This report will focus on the mechanics of the trip and not so much on where we went and what we saw/did underwater since there are lots of existing trip reports about that, and right now simply traveling internationally is almost the bigger adventure.

We were last minute add-ons to a trip organized by our local dive shop (LDS). Their trip to Bonaire was originally scheduled to happen right when COVID-19 started so it kept getting re-re-rescheduled until it finally came together in mid-June 2021. Everyone else stayed at Belmar but by the time we joined they were full, so we ended up at Buddy Dive. That turned out to be a huge plus for our group of four (two certified, two newbies who got certified while on Bonaire)... the included breakfasts, the onsite restaurants, the more complete dive shop, and the onsite tank filling station (Belmar and all other sites have to truck their tanks to/from the Buddy Dive "home site") made for a vastly superior experience compared to "just an apartment" at Belmar.

Since the group-at-large already had their flights booked, we had to arrange our own travel. My wife handles travel for our large extended family so she's a master at such things, and in the end we spent less time in airports AND far less money for our flights than the rest of the group. Example: We left AUA at noon and were home in Idaho at midnight the same day. Leaving at noon meant we could dive the previous day as long as we were out of the water by 6pm (18 hours) so that effectively bought us an extra day of diving.

Leaving the US was straightforward. Arriving at BON requires you to show them PCR NAAT test results within the last 24 hours, which we took at Walgreens on the way to the airport. Walgreens charged us $0 for our group of four - not sure how that happened since we have no other relationship with them and they have no medical insurance data on us. We received the PDF results via email by the time we landed at our outbound layover, just a couple of hours later.

The very first thing you do when you get off the plane in BON is show them your PCR test. They do this under a canopy outside the terminal - you literally cannot get into the terminal without test results. But they were super friendly about it and the process was very smooth.

Buddy Dive was simply awesome. As it turned out, we arrived on the very first day of their reopening for normal business after being shut down all that time for COVID-19. They understand that their business, and the island economy, are wholly dependent upon tourism and they were incredibly gracious and helpful and friendly. Their facility and accommodations are a bit dated here and there but they are clean, have the best air conditioning I've ever felt, and every single employee went out of their way to make us feel welcome. They will be our default choice for return visits!

The rest of our LDS dive group returned to the US after seven days. But since we arranged our own travel, we opted to hop over to Aruba for three more days so our freshly certified kids (19 and 17) could dive on the shipwrecks and airplane wrecks there. Aruba also requires a within-24-hours test, which Buddy Dive arranged for us with Bon Bini (a Bonaire medical group) right on the property so we didn't have to drive anywhere. We simply walked to the front office and the tests were over in about 15 minutes.

Aruba also requires visitors to buy a medical insurance policy which shelters their government from any COVID-19 expenses if you come down with the virus while on the island. We did that online after receiving our test results, which only took a few minutes per person.

We took Divi Divi Airlines from BON to AUA and loved them! Going from BON to AUA means a short layover in CUR, so be forewarned that Divi Divi doesn't staff their gates until they're literally ready to board you. That got a little nerve wracking as we watched the time tick closer and closer, but suddenly a very nice gal appeared and immediately ushered everyone out to the bus and thence to the de Havilland Twin Otter (their entire fleet is just six Twin Otters!). The staff was awesome, the planes were snug but a hoot for such puddle jumping, and overall it was a great day. I monitored our flight on GPS and they flew at 4000 MSL and ~200 MPH between the islands.

Unlike Bonaire, Aruba checks your test results indoors (read: air conditioning). Again, super friendly and wecoming. Customs was fast and painless.

On Aruba we stayed at the absolutely brand new (only opened in April, two months ago) Radisson Blu Aruba hotel on Palm Beach. The hotel was incredible, but we're not "nightlife" people so next time we might opt to stay nearer Eagle Beach. Once again we dove with SE Aruba Fly-n-Dive; they've always taken great care of us and we've come to consider Paula, her husband, and the rest of their crew like family. A special shout-out for dive master Lucas, who was ultra-professional in an easygoing manner that made everyone comfortable.

The US requires a within-24-hours PCR test for all entrants including US Citizens.Like Buddy Dive on Bonaire, the Radisson also arranged for onsite PCR testing - right in our hotel room! It was late in the day so we didn't get the test results until the next morning, but they popped into our email right at 8am.

Our return flight was on AA from AUA to CLT. Aruba has enough US visitors that US Customs maintains its own staff and facilities within the airport. The process in AUA airport has several steps for checking test results... you submit your bags and then retrieve them again, only to submit them a second time... there is a separate Customs process for "leaving Aruba" and "enter the US". Plan on standing in lines for a while. But by the time you're boarding the plane, you're already cleared to reenter the US so arriving in CLT was like any usual domestic flight.

In summary: It IS possible to travel to the ABC's after COVID-19 and have a great time diving there. The testing is annoying (and pricey, on the islands) but managable and the locals work HARD to make it as easy as they can. Testing for our two-island trip added about $750 for four people (eight tests on two islands) so factor that into your budget, and remember that here in Idaho Walgreens charged us zero. I don't know if that's true in other states so you may have additional costs for your outbound US tests.

It was awesome getting back into real diving after ~18 months of jumping into local lakes just to keep our skills fresh. We've been to Aruba before so we knew what to expect there, but this was our first trip to Bonaire and it lived up to all the hype. The often-rocky shore entrances and exits were a sometimes challenging with all the gear, but our LDS staff took incredible care of my slightly physically challenged wife.

Overall a fantastic trip and we can't wait to return to Bonaire. If you're considering a dive trip to the Caribbean, our experience says it's 100% possible and 100% worth it. Get out there!
I am going to Aruba in March. Can you tell me about this medical insurance that they make you purchase? How much is it and wouldn't the insurance that I have through my work and my DAN insurance be enough?
 

IDEngineer

Registered
Messages
9
Reaction score
12
Location
Idaho USA
# of dives
50 - 99
Nope, DAN and private insurance (both of which we have) aren't enough. What's happening here is that Aruba wants to protect themselves from getting stuck with excessive medical bills if someone falls ill with COVID-19 during a visit. Aruba probably doesn't trust "Oh yeah, we're fully covered" when the exposure could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not sure I blame them. I base this on the following:

"Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the island of Aruba must ensure that all visitors are properly insured and that local medical- and non-medical providers are not left with unpaid bills."

Click here: Aruba Visitor's Insurance

...and you'll hit the official site that explains this insurance. The link to actually buy it is on that page.

"The insurance is required for all foreign nationals with the exception of visitors who arrive and leave the same day, Crew Members and transit/transfer passengers who don't need to recheck their luggage."

...and:

"The online ED card is mandatory for all travelers to Aruba, including minors and infants."

In other words, if you're just transiting through AUA (you're not leaving the airport) they don't require the insurance. It seems like there's a loophole if you have a layover, leave your luggage in the system, and simply walk out of the airport and stroll around Aruba for a few hours but I'll let that be their problem. :oops:

The price isn't crazy: Ages 15+ are $15 for up to six months. Children 0-14 are free but they still have to apply. We considered it basically a small "COVID-19 tax", paid it, and moved on. It's honestly less than many of the "extras" that get tacked onto every airline ticket and hotel stay.

Hope this helps!
 

Jake 10

Contributor
Messages
1,068
Reaction score
1,378
Location
Mid-Atlantic Region
# of dives
50 - 99
Testing for our two-island trip added about $750 for four people (eight tests on two islands).. wow !!
 

IDEngineer

Registered
Messages
9
Reaction score
12
Location
Idaho USA
# of dives
50 - 99
Testing for our two-island trip added about $750 for four people (eight tests on two islands).. wow !!
Yep, that was a non-trivial expense. But we figured the sunk cost of getting there made it a tolerable extra cost for adding an extra island to our itinerary. YMMV.
 

SaltyKSue

Contributor
Messages
413
Reaction score
17
Location
Holladay, Ut
# of dives
500 - 999
Nope, DAN and private insurance (both of which we have) aren't enough. What's happening here is that Aruba wants to protect themselves from getting stuck with excessive medical bills if someone falls ill with COVID-19 during a visit. Aruba probably doesn't trust "Oh yeah, we're fully covered" when the exposure could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not sure I blame them. I base this on the following:

"Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the island of Aruba must ensure that all visitors are properly insured and that local medical- and non-medical providers are not left with unpaid bills."

Click here: Aruba Visitor's Insurance

...and you'll hit the official site that explains this insurance. The link to actually buy it is on that page.

"The insurance is required for all foreign nationals with the exception of visitors who arrive and leave the same day, Crew Members and transit/transfer passengers who don't need to recheck their luggage."

...and:

"The online ED card is mandatory for all travelers to Aruba, including minors and infants."

In other words, if you're just transiting through AUA (you're not leaving the airport) they don't require the insurance. It seems like there's a loophole if you have a layover, leave your luggage in the system, and simply walk out of the airport and stroll around Aruba for a few hours but I'll let that be their problem. :oops:

The price isn't crazy: Ages 15+ are $15 for up to six months. Children 0-14 are free but they still have to apply. We considered it basically a small "COVID-19 tax", paid it, and moved on. It's honestly less than many of the "extras" that get tacked onto every airline ticket and hotel stay.

Hope this helps!
Thanks - this does help! Having the link helps! I appreciate that!
 
https://www.shearwater.com/products/teric/

Top Bottom